The Fight of the Century

There’s been a great deal written over the past few years about how the church is “losing” millenials (young people coming to adulthood around the turn of the century, the year 2000, that is) or members of Generation “Y.” Many have speculated as to the reason, but it seems to me to have something to do with the rise of liberalism in both politics and the church. This is manifested in many ways, but I believe most significantly is the extreme antipathy of many young people toward conservatives for what they feel is a hawklike view of the war in Afghanistan and the potential for war is places like Syria and Gaza. Not to mention conservative support for legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and legislation against gun control reform.

There are probably lots of personal reasons people have for turning away from or leaving the church, but based on news coverage and changing public opinion, it seems to me the perceived treatment of LGBT men and women by conservatives and “evangelical” Christians has had the most effect on young people as far as changing their views of the church.

I do believe in God, in Jesus, and in his sacrifice on behalf of the world and everyone in it. Not just everyone who believes, but everyone.

Many of the people who share my faith also share a view that (and I am not speaking solely of the loathsome Westboro Baptist “Church” here) homosexuality is chief among sins, and will be what will ultimately bring down the country, the world, and bring about the return of Christ to wreak vengeance on a gay-loving world. Or something like that.

Often, the approach of my fellow believers toward gay people—both at gay events and in other forums, such as online, in newspapers, magazines, etc.—is to let those men and women know in no uncertain terms what fate awaits them should they choose not to change their evil ways and repent. Seldom–if ever–mentioned is the true message of Christ.

The problem that I have now—and have for many years—is that approach sounds nothing like Jesus to me. Jesus didn’t tell his followers to condemn. He told them to love their neighbor. That doesn’t mean love their sin. It just seems to me that spewing vitriol at people does not let them know a loving God exists, a God who is in the business of deliverance. Not to mention that if I ignore the plank in my own eye, I am also sinning before God.

Let me backtrack a bit—all the way back to the very early 1980s.

My first encounter with a gay person was in the 8th grade, shortly before I moved up to high school. I wrote about that day a while back here. For those of you younger folks, homosexuality wasn’t something much talked about then. It was a different time, in almost every way. For my part, and also for many of the kids I hung out with, the word “fag” was tossed around almost haphazardly, without any concern for what it meant (many of us didn’t have anything but a rudimentary understanding of what homosexuality was, or how it was practiced. I include myself in that number).

We just said it, and it was almost a…good natured insult. Never considered was the fact that it could have been hurtful to anyone. It was just something we said. A lot.

I still regret what happened that night in my friend’s backyard, and I probably always will, to an extent. I’ve asked God’s forgiveness for my part in it, and I wish I could find the young man we hurt and ask for his, but that is not to be. Believe me, I spent a considerable amount of time looking.

So what has happened since then is that I have come into contact with a great many gay men and women at various jobs, and at the junior college I attended back in the 1990’s. With each encounter—and with each friendship developed—I began to notice something.

Each one of these men and women were people just like I was. They ate, and slept, and got dressed, and showered, and pooped. The only difference I saw was that they were drawn to people of the same sex and I was not.

They loved the people they were with, and in many cases had been committed to them alone for long periods of time. I worked with one lesbian couple that had been together for decades—almost as long as my parents were before they died.

Another thing to consider is the tendency of many gay people (not to mention the unquestionably liberally-minded media) to single out Christians, conservatives, and the “religious right” as chief amongst their oppressors, in a world that otherwise loves and supports the LGBT lifestyle and practices. The truth is, in many parts of the world (including the parts practicing Islam and orthodox Judaism) homosexuality is condemned in stronger words than most Christians use, and gay marriage isn’t mentioned at all. That typically is not discussed, though.

Another thing I do disagree with is the tendency of late for LGBT people to liken their quest for what they call “marriage equality” to that of the struggle African-Americans faced during the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s. Yes, they are fighting for what they deem a right they are being denied, but of the states who are denying LGBT men and women the right to use the word “marriage” to describe their unions, I would submit that many—if not most—of them are doing so based on the definition they have to work with on what marriage is—which for a great many conservatives and those on the religious “right” means the union of a man and a woman. While that is how I would personally define the word as well, I would do so while taking the following into consideration.

What had changed in my heart over the years (and this is way before I became a believer) was that I no longer cared about whether or not these people wanted to do the same things I did with the people they were involved with. It occurred to me it was none of my business. It still isn’t, and I still don’t care. I wouldn’t want them to try and peek into my bedroom, either.

I dealt with and related to gay men and women on a personal level, based on how they treated me and others and not who they slept with (or didn’t). It worked out pretty well, and I made a couple of good friends over the years.

When I came to belief in 2000, I was in a place in life where I didn’t work with or know anyone who was gay (that I knew of, anyway). I began to grow and deepen my faith, and it was so interesting to see that the Jesus I came to know through scripture and discipling was not the same one I’d heard about over the course of my life before knowing him.

In the course of time, I became somewhat involved with a young woman I worked with, and we began to spend time together with a group of friends of hers—most of whom were gay men.

I did not make a secret of my faith, and they respected it. I treated them just like I did everyone else, and I began to notice something the more time I spent with them. The gay community—at least to the extent of my involvement and casual friendships with these men—was way more of a community than the straight people I’d hung out with prior to that. They supported each other unconditionally, and seemed less interested in judging themselves and others than they did in simply living their lives.

I didn’t preach to them, and they didn’t try to convert me. I was more than willing to talk about any aspect of my faith they wanted to hear about, but I did not shove hell down their throats, either. I just tried to love them the way they were, to the best of my ability—even if I didn’t understand their lifestyle. It just didn’t seem to fit with the way we were made. But I could let that slide, for the most part. They didn’t share details of what they were doing in their relationships, and neither did I. So we had a mostly very friendly relationship, each of us understanding we were different, and that—for the most part—was OK. And the truth is, this particular group of gentlemen was a lot of fun to hang out with.

One time in particular, one of them told me, “It means a lot that you’re here. I don’t think anybody’s used to that with people like you.” I assumed he meant straight people at first, but then I realized he meant Christians.

I told him that I just loved God, and that scripture says I’m supposed to love people, too. He smiled and gave me a hug.

Eventually, though, things began to change a little bit, and I started to struggle with some of the things I saw. It culminated in an evening where the young woman I was involved with and I were at a party where we were the only straight people, and things started happening around us. Very quickly, it started making me feel really uncomfortable, and I told the girl that I wanted to leave. It got to a point where I could no longer balance what I believed versus what these men did—mostly because I was being confronted with it in a way that got me a little weirded out, to tell the truth.

It wasn’t in the privacy of anyone’s bedroom, so I no longer had the luxury of not being involved. She didn’t feel the way I did. That was the night we decided to “take a break,” which we never recovered from. There have been times when I wondered what would have happened if things hadn’t gotten so crazy that night. Would God have convicted me in some other way? I don’t know. And with things being as they are now, I can’t imagine wanting to change anything or go back. Yes, it ended up being a painful end to my relationship. Perhaps that was what it took to refine my heart.

In any case, after the party that night, I didn’t spend much more time with the group of guys, as I didn’t spend much more time with the girl—not any more, actually, outside of work.

It was five years later before I was involved with anyone else, and that was with the woman who would later become my wife. As we grew into our relationship, and our marriage, it was around the time all the gay marriage propositions were going through the process of becoming law. “Marriage Equality” and all that. I hadn’t thought much about the fact that gay people couldn’t (or could) be married over the course of my life prior to that time period, so it was interesting to see all of the various things on the news, including the Chik-Fil-A controversy of couple years ago.

It was interesting—and I felt a little conflicted inside—because while so many of my fellow Christians were up in arms about the potential legalization of gay marriage, I just…wasn’t. I knew what the Bible had to say about homosexuality, and I agreed with it, but I also did not have a troubled heart about any of those people who wanted to get married. It didn’t matter to me what these folks wanted to do in the privacy of their own homes, and it seemed fair enough that they should be able to marry, if it made it easier regarding insurance and benefits, etc. I never felt that if they were able to marry it would threaten the sanctity of my own marriage. How could it? How could two men or two women marrying each other make my own union any less holy in the sight of God?

What did occur to me, though, was to wonder if all these people who complained, and protested, and cried out about how gay marriage was a danger to the family felt the same about divorce. Why is it we never see news stories about millions of people marching to protest how common arbitrarily ending a marriage has become? God is also very clear how he feels about divorce–perhaps even more clear than about gay marriage. And while all these people were spouting off about how a word is defined, it occurred to me to wonder about how a marriage is defined? What does it mean to these people?

Certainly, I am not trying to say that divorce is never the right course of action, because sometimes it is the only course of action. It’s just that people are often so…fickle about it. The statistic you hear all the time about 50% of marriages ending in divorce? I believe it. Why wouldn’t it be true? It seems that few people understand what a covenant is these days. To me it suggests a sacred promise, and the rings my wife and I exchanged are a symbol of that promise. In short, I got married to her because I wanted to, because I knew I didn’t want anyone else, ever.

And last week, I think I realized what marriage really was. It’s spending the night before Valentine’s day in the ER with your husband, while he practically yells and pounds chairs and walls in his pain. It’s spending the day itself in a chair next to his bed, and praying for him. It’s holding his hand and making him think of other things. It’s sleeping (sort of) sitting up rather than going home, even for a little while. It’s devotion to the person with whom you made the covenant, and that is what my wife showed me last week, and it made me love her all the more, if such a thing is even possible.

So to recap. While I understand the biblical reasoning behind the stance so many take on whether or not homosexuals should be able to marry (based on the “biblical” definition of what marriage means), the conflict I feel comes from feeling like if people are devoted to one another, and are willing to make a covenant saying they are going to mean it for the rest of their lives, it’s hard for me not to want to just let them. Even if I don’t agree with or practice the same lifestyle they do.

Also, a while back, my adopted state of Arizona has passed (and sent to the governor–who vetoed the legislation) SB1062, a law that in essence allows people who refuse service to someone a defense (‘deeply held’ religious beliefs) in the event they are sued for descrimination or something of that nature. Of course, while legal recourse may ostensibly be what the law is about, the unspoken subtext is that it would also give others what they feel is license to treat gay people and their potential business in an unfair and descriminatory manner.

I believe that is it in a nutshell, and is also what has millions of gays and pro-gays in such an uproar once again. They’re crying foul, and likening the legislation to the old Jim Crow laws from decades ago. While that may be a much lengthier discussion for another time, it does seem to me that while the “Jim Crow” battle cry is closer to pro-gay hyperbole than anything else, there is also a great deal of potential for descriminatory ugliness with this law, because people are people, and prone to do bad things with ambiguously worded legislation such as this.

With all that in mind, I think perhaps it is not just what some Christian folks are saying, but how they’re saying it. The arguments are the same, and probably always will be. Scripture decrying homosexuality is referenced, and gays along with supporters throw up scripture they feel counters their Christian counterparts efforts in the same regard. It gets uglier all the time, and nowhere on either side of the discussion is the real message of Jesus referenced.

It seems like this to me: if the bible is true, and it tells us that God is love and that all people will know we are the disciples of Christ if we love one another, then how are we showing the people who do not know his love the face of Jesus by so often treating them with open hostility? How does feeding gay people fettucini alfredo or making a wedding cake for them make you a participant in whatever sin you feel they’re committing? I mean, I get it, but I don’t agree.

The problem is the wording and the design of the legislation, and I wonder sometimes if that was an intentional, CYA move on the part of the legislators. If so, we have to think about how this legislation is like (or could be like)…giving people already inclined to do so the right to treat others shabbily. There may be a place for some similar type of legislation, but this particular law is not going to go over well, not with the social climate surrounding this issue what it has become.

For my part, I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t treat people that way, and I never really could. Maybe some of it is my California-ness regarding gay people carrying over into my life in Arizona, but it’s really more about not wanting to feel like I’m any better than anyone else because my sin is different. I am not better than anyone else. I am the same. In my dotage, I’ve found it so much easier to treat people kindly. I would rather make them their food or a cake or floral arrangements, and then tell them God loves them and died for them. I want people to know the Jesus I do. Whether they’re gay or straight or…whatever, I want them to know him, and know how he feels for them and what he did. I do not now—nor have I ever—felt my marriage (or any marriage) could be threatened in any way by who else can get married.

I wonder, though, how many gay men or women are known by the folks protesting gay marriage?

I also wonder how many Christians are known by gay people?

If we don’t know each other, how can we expect anything to change in either direction? Jesus talked to people. Walked with people. Ate with them. Probably fished with them, and laughed and drank and danced. I believe that in the end, the Eternal Kingdom will not be filled courtesy of those who spoke out against the things God hates the loudest—those who shouted condemnation from every rooftop. I think souls will quietly slip in thanks to the people who have shown them the most love, who have shown them Jesus.

To that end, because I am loved, I will try to be loving. I will choose to show people the Jesus I know by telling them about what he’s done in my life. I will tell them about how I am incomplete, and wounded, and broken, and still sin, but am loved in spite of the things that queue up to keep me from Jesus. I will explain what scripture means to me as I understand it, and I will tell people what I think if they ask me. If I love Jesus like I say, I owe them the truth.

I just have no intention of shouting it at them, or telling them God hates them because of their sin. Brand me a heretic if you must, but I feel that if God hated people because of their sin, he would hate all of us equally. And he would not have redeemed us from anything. You don’t die for people you hate.

And to see so many people caught up in the definition of a word and how it threatens them rather than simply getting to know people and telling them about Jesus just doesn’t make any sense to me. I can’t understand how telling people they’re damned for what they do in their bedrooms is going to show them the Jesus I know that has changed my life and could also change theirs.

To be clear, once again, I am aware of the mentions in the bible of homosexuality, and that it is addressed as sin. While it is true that God hates sin, it would be errant—once again—to imply that he hates homosexuality more than any other type of sin. And that he hates homosexuals more than anyone else. Sin is sin. If God hated homosexuals, he would also hate every other type of sinner, and probably all Christians. The bible doesn’t say any of that.

Homosexuality is not something I indulge in, and whether or not I “approve” of it does not really even matter. I think the bible makes it clear what God thinks of homosexuality and what it entails, and I acknowledge the punishment for it is the same as any other sin—all other sin. Omission of mention by Jesus is not the same as approval. While Jesus himself may not mention homosexuality specifically, he did come in fulfillment of Old Testament Law, and prophecy, not to nullify it. I think where we go awry is when we start classifying sins, and justify ours as less terrible than homosexuality.

It isn’t.

No one is righteous, no not one. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Certainly not me.

We’re all different, but we are also all the same. We need God.
We need Jesus if we are to be freed from our chains and our sins. God knows it, and Christians do, too. Yet if we can condemn someone else for what they’re doing, then we don’t have to think as much about what we’re doing. All of which means that we can take comfort in our own perceived righteousness, while we decry the unrighteousness of gay men and women as if it were anything different than sins that we have committed, now, and throughout history.

Take a look at Matthew 5: 27-28. Go ahead. Read it and come back. Still here? Good. Let me repeat what I said before. Sin is sin. No one is righteous, no not one. How can I justify condemning a gay person with my own words, while justifying my own actions as a lesser sin. To God, they are the same. The punishment is the same.

Let’s talk about those Old Testament laws for a few minutes. You know the ones. Many people will talk about how scripture also mentions other things as being sinful that people don’t seem to care about anymore, like eating shrimp and other sea creatures for one example (take your pick, there are many others). They will tell you that those old laws—like the ones that condemn homosexuality as well as other sexual sins—do not matter or apply anymore, because the world is a different place. That’s partly true, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Those laws again, from the Old Testament. Taken specifically, there are three different types.

Laws pertaining just to the (ancient) state of Israel. They are pretty specific.

Also for consideration are ceremonial laws (many pertaining to sacrifice, and diet, and things of that nature), which were superseded by the New Covenant, fulfilled in the person of Christ.

Lastly, moral laws. It is only the moral laws of the Old Testament which remain and are held as truths by most Christians based on the validity of the Ten Commandments. I won’t go into every piece of scripture here, but at least to address the dietary laws and some of the other laws that seem to apply mainly to those of the Jewish faith rather than Christians: take a look at Mark 7:19, Acts 15: 5-29, etc.

Of course, if one does not hold the Bible as truth, then this would make little sense. And there’s the rub.

Then Jesus enters the picture, and everything changes.

As believers, we are called to share him and his truth with people. So while the biblical principles of the Old Testament make it clear how God feels about all different types of sin, there is hope, and in a world that seems to have so little, that is indeed something.

I posted a picture on Facebook not long ago I’d seen online of a group of Christians (mostly men) at a Gay Pride event, and they were holding signs and wearing shirts that said “I’m sorry.” They were apologizing to gay people for the treatment they’d received at the hands of standard bearers for Jesus. In the picture I posted, a gay man in great physical condition wearing tighty-whiteys gripped one of the shirt-wearers in what looked to be a very emotional bear-hug.


I thought it was a great picture and that it was a great way to actually show Jesus to people who needed to know him instead of just telling them they were on the Bullet Train to hell.

I got a bit of an ass-chewing from a couple of people to the effect that treating gay people as if their lifestyle was OK was the same as personally condoning and supporting it, and that wasn’t right—as if because I was a Christian, I should tell them they were going to hell. Never mind all that “love your neighbor” stuff. I want to tell people about Jesus, and I will tell them about sin. I just feel the right thing to do is let them know they are loved first.

I can’t convict someone of any sin, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. Jesus does that. And it isn’t my function, as a believer, to punish people for sin. Let him without sin cast the first stone?

That ain’t me, man—I’m a mess.

I’d rather tell someone I’m sorry, then hug them and tell them Jesus loves them.

I will leave the condemning up to God.

The How and the Why

I was sitting here today with a little time to kill on my lunch break, and it occurred to me there may be a few people out there reading this who have no idea how I came to faith. The following jumble of words is how it finally happened for me—how I came to faith, and why, after most of my life. It’s a long story, but it’s true, and it’s mine. I don’t expect to convert anyone with my words—because I am just a person with a story, like everyone else. It’s God who convicts, not me.

So here we go. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that it would make more sense for me not to believe than to have faith, considering how my life went prior to my “conversion” to faith. And indeed, I did spend most of life not believing, though with a healthy dose of curiosity.

My childhood was fairly normal, as far as the things I did. I played, I read comics, I spent time with friends. I did well in school, and I did badly in school. There were a few incidents when I was younger where my older brother took out a great deal of his frustration on me, whether or not that frustration had anything to do with me was immaterial. I was there when he felt it, and I suppose working out his issues on his little brother may have offered him relief in some way. I don’t know, I wasn’t privy to his thoughts. The result of his behavior toward me, though, was a tremendously negative self-image, and quite a few scars (on the inside and the out). I learned how to feel and act like a victim, and that was mostly what I did through my childhood and adolescence.

Additionally, my mother began to struggle with cancer when I was around ten, I think, and she had a lot of both victory and defeat in her battle with the disease. Which culminated, of course, with her losing the final battle. Cancer treatment was not in the 1980’s what it is now.

One other thing about my adolescence. That was where I first heard about Jesus, while attending the youth group of a Foursquare church two of my friends attended. The word fell on rocky soil in my case, but I did hear it. And I remembered it.

My dad died from a heart attack when I was 16, and it was shortly after that I left the youth group and never went back. I remember the youth leader wanted me to give a testimony to the church about how Christ had gotten me through the experience. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel that he had. After I left the group, I didn’t think about God for a very long time.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school, a very close friend shot himself in the head less than half a mile from my house, and bled to death on a flat spot of dirt, under a pepper tree I could see from my front yard. That was probably one of the worst things I had ever experienced, because one day he was here and the next he was gone. We had no time to prepare for his loss, and had no idea how to deal with it once he was gone. To make matters worse, two of my friends and I saw the immediate aftermath of his death. Not knowing it had been him, we were walking past where it had happened, and no one had thought to clean up the mess. And it was quite a mess.

The next day the space shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff, and we found out the kid who’d died on the hillside under the pepper tree was our friend, and for me at least, the wheels came off after that. I didn’t want to hear about God, or anything to do with God. I just wanted to listen to my metal, and hole up in a dark place, both literally and figuratively.

I was young, though, and eventually got most of my life back in time for the remainder of my senior year. I had a girlfriend and I was doing passably at pulling myself up by the bootstraps. I graduated by the skin of my teeth, and proceeded to not think at all what to do with my life.

My mom also finally took her final turn for the worse. I remember the day of my graduation she was lying on a hospital bed in our living room and could not attend the ceremony, which was all I really wanted. Didn’t happen. She was pretty messed up at the time, and in lots of pain. It was only going to get worse.

We had to move from the house I grew up in to an apartment, because treatment and everything else was so expensive. Also, by that time I had stopped getting money from my dad’s social security because I was over 18. We were pretty much broke, and didn’t get that much for the house because of the condition it was in. Mostly, thanks to my brother and his penchant for destruction.

I drove my mom to the hospital for her final visit in February of 1987. She died on the 27th of February, two months shy of my 19th birthday.

I remember her funeral being weird and uncomfortable. The pastor doing the service knew nothing about my mother, and instead talked about Jesus and the path to salvation during the eulogy. I REALLY didn’t want to hear that. It sounded like bull crap to me.

Following that, I went into what was pretty much a tailspin that lasted until the early 1990’s. I tried to fill this yawning void down the center of me with so many things. I became a binge drinker, and a very bad one. I ate like a Roman at a banquet. I looked at pornography. I indulged in several completely empty relationships. I lied, I cheated, and I even stole from a couple of employers. I was a walking disaster. Finally, FINALLY, it began to change for me when I met someone that was a Christian, and a legitimate one. She represented a different Jesus to me than I had ever heard about. My curiosity was piqued, and I once began to try and figure things out. Who was God? Was he real? Was Jesus? What did any of that mean to me?

I had job at a window covering factory at one point, and one time I was working next to a guy when he broke his hand on one of the machines. He came back to work a day or two later, and I remember having this philosophical conversation with him one day (he could still run the machine with one hand in a cast). I told him I didn’t feel God had ever done anything for me except take things and people away. He told me God had done more for me than I knew.

How could these people I knew believe in a God that seemed so…arbitrary? Even cruel sometimes.

I had no idea, so I read things, lots of things. I read apologetic books from people like CS Lewis. I began to read the bible. My curiosity and desire for answers continued to grow, but my faith did not.

In 1996, I met a guy at a Junior College I was attending who was the same age as me, and had gone through many of the same things I had. He even knew one of my good childhood friends (he used to buy drugs from him). This guy I’d met was the first person to ever tell me his testimony, one-on-one, and it was quite a story. He’d been about to lose his family to his drug habit. He’d been in the Army for a while, which was where he met his wife.

He started attending his wife’s church to save his marriage, and it worked. His marriage was saved, and soon after he was as well. He began playing guitar and leading worship, which is what he was doing when I met him. Now he’s pastor of a church in Pittsburgh, PA, in a community called McKees Rocks.

My friendship with this gentleman—and his pastor—was what finally began to work on my heart. The pastor was a man named Tim Wakefield, and he was awesome. I began attending the Sunday evening service, and Tim and my friend always took the time to talk to me after service. They answered the questions I asked, and they prayed for me, which felt a little strange, but somehow also good.

But I still wasn’t ready.

In the Spring of 2000, Tim was riding his motorcycle to Arizona to visit family, when he was killed in a crash. It was a freak thing, and it was horrible, and everyone mourned. There were bikers at his funeral. There were a lot of Navy people. There were people from other churches—all the lives Tim had touched. The small sanctuary was filled and the doors were open. The love for this man oozed out into the parking lot.

A few days after that, I went on a vacation with my friends—my drinking buddies. We each had a thirty pack, and we meant to destroy them. I remember standing on a dock looking over the river at Arizona and thinking about Tim. Thinking about my life. Thinking about my sin. And then awareness of my sin hit me all at once. The consequence of potentially and suddenly dying with that sin still around me took my breath away. I realized, finally, that I needed God.

I needed him desperately. And I could have him through Jesus.

So I literally fell to my knees and I prayed sincerely for the first time in my life. I confessed, for the first time in my life. I asked for the forgiveness only Jesus could give, for the first time in my life.

Nothing physically happened. I was still kneeling on the dock. I still had holes in the knees of my Levis. I was still a sinner, in need of grace.

I realized the difference was that I now had it. It was like peace about my life poured over me like a big jug of cool water. And so it began.

That’s the how of my transition from non-belief to belief in Jesus. There’s a great deal more to the story, but it has to start somewhere, and that’s the beginning of my story.

The “why” is a little bit more complicated, in a sense.

Why do I believe?

I believe because of the life and witness of two really good friends, who were not insane, not hypocrites, and could sincerely and truthfully attest to the presence of Christ in their lives. They were people transformed and I believed them.

I believe because of a dozen or so quiet conversations with an ex-Navy chaplain named Tim.

I believe because God touched my life and gave me hope in my otherwise worthless life. No one could convince me differently.

I believe because shortly after praying at the river, God showed me what I meant to him. He showed me that he saw me, and loved me, and wanted me.

He showed me through a vision, of sorts. I didn’t appear in it, and he didn’t appear in it. Not all of him, anyway.
Imagine a hand in a cone of light, as if from a spotlight. The light is warm and yellow. The hand is extended, palm up. In the palm lies a fresh oyster, still covered in slime and muck. Water pours over the mollusk, cleaning off much of the sediment and grossness.

Another hand enters the picture and it is clearly a hand that has seen many years of hard work. It is covered with calluses and scars from the fingers to the wrist, including two ovular pads of scar tissue at the heel of the palm, matching the one holding the oyster.

The hand holds a small, curved knife, and moves toward the shell. The mollusk is pried open, and the inner parts quickly searched through, revealing a small round object covered in slime. The hand drops the knife and gently wipes away the offending goop, revealing what has been there all along: a pearl of great price.

The pearl shines softly in the scarred hand.

I really believe that was the day my life began. At least, the part that involves Jesus. The part that counts. The part that began to reveal the path set for me, toward a beautiful and strong-willed woman in the Arizona desert.

It wasn’t all easy after that, and I don’t expect it to be in the future. The future I have thanks to the carpenter who had me in mind from the beginning.

I believe because God healed the worst and most broken parts of me, and revealed a strength I never knew I had.

I believe.

The Least I Can Do

I once saw a homeless man politely asked to leave a church I used to be part of. The person that did it did not have any malicious intent (at least it didn’t seem like it), and may have been concerned of the effect this gentleman may have had on the other people in the sanctuary. That may have been true, because the man was pretty aromatic. He sat in the very back row, but I could still smell him when I walked in. I saw the man look up when he was approached, and then get up and leave a few seconds later.

I remember the pastor saw this happen from another part of the sanctuary and immediately came over and had words with the older guy who had just asked the homeless man to leave. Then he opened the back doors to the sanctuary and went after him, walking down Linda Vista road. Several minutes later, he came back with the homeless man, and sat him down about midway through the sanctuary. I don’t know how many others noticed this, and the pastor did not address it publicly, but I do remember him being especially passionate during his sermon.

It made me wonder how much we mean it when we say “come as you are” when talking about our church. I wonder what I would do if some ragged and smelly homeless person sat down in the back row of the Kofa Auditorium? I would like to think I would greet him and introduce him to people. I would like to think I could represent Christ to him in a way he might not have considered before, given his life circumstances. It’s easy for me to say, “Of course I would treat him well,” least of these and all.

Would I, though? If I am honest with myself, the truth is, I don’t know. I’ve seen lots of homeless people in town, and sometimes I talk to them and just ask them if they’re ok, and sometimes I don’t. I remember a few months ago, my wife and I were pulling out of the Albertsons parking lot, I think, and there was a woman holding a sign and pleading for money standing near the corner of Avenue B and whatever that other street is. Something about her car, I think it was. I didn’t see her at first, but my wife said “I think I’m going to give her some money.”

“OK,” I said, and she handed me a few bills. I was feeling rather cynical about it, because this lady didn’t look quite as ragged as some people do you see around town.

I rolled down the window (my wife was driving) with the bills in my hand. “Here you go,” I said, and slipped her the five or ten dollars. She took the money, but she didn’t let go of my hand right away. I looked at her for a moment to try and get a sense of things, and I could see she suffered from that skin condition that adds an almost-sunburned hue to a person’s countenance (rosacea? I don’t know).

“God bless you,” she said, and I could see her eyes fill.

Not me, I thought. “You as well,” I said. “Good luck. Keep praying.”

“Oh, I will,” she said.

I was just thinking about that day, and the day when Tim went and got that guy who’d been evicted from his pew. How often have I missed opportunities to show grace to people? How often have I been tired, or irritated, or just wanted to get to wherever my destination was rather than give someone I didn’t know a few minutes of my time? Many times.

One thing about The Rock Church that has been nice is we’ve only been going a short while, but have already had several chances to interact with the community, including our first outreach, which was to the Yuma military community. It was a really nice–though hot–day. And even though I was tired as hell, and didn’t want to go, I sucked it up and went anyway. I was blessed to have been there.

So my line of thought today was like this: don’t let chances go by when they come. You will regret it if you miss something. I believe that God sends people and chances our way–opportunites he means for us to take. They might seem like difficulties to us. They might seem like (and often are) obstacles to completing whatever we have on our own agenda.

They aren’t.

They’re opportunities to do ministry. To help seek out the lost.

Let’s take them.